We’re Starting Married Life ... Help and Advise Please (3)
John Salisbury, Northampton, England
We need to remember that marriage is not an end in itself. We need wisdom from God to make our marriages successful.
The wedding day is over and the happy young couple are settling into the joy of experiencing the long anticipated ‘one flesh’ relationship that God has provided for them as man and wife. The early days of married life are very special as the couple explore this new relationship as ‘heirs together of the grace of life’, 1 Peter 3. 7. God recognizes this and He made provision for newlyweds in Israel to spend time together for the first year without the husband being called away to serve his country or engage in official duties, Deut. 24. 5. In this way he could be at home and give his wife the love that she sought.
For Christian newlyweds these are formative days in which they establish their individual roles as husband and wife and their joint role as a married couple. Now is the time to put into practice the ideals discussed during courtship. How important to start as they mean to go on and, by doing so, lay the foundation for a happy and successful family life.
A New Unit
The couple are no longer two single, independent individuals. They are now man and wife, having committed themselves publicly, and in the presence of God, completely and exclusively to each other for life.
They are no longer subject to their parents, as was previously the case, although they will remember the teaching of scripture to ‘honour thy father and mother’. Maintaining a good relationship with both sets of parents is most important. In the case of unbelieving parents it is vital not to cut them off. As time goes by, they may become grandparents and should be allowed to play their important role in this wider family circle.
The ‘One Flesh’ Relationship
God intends that the intimacy of the sexual relationship between husband and wife should be enjoyed, not only for the purpose of producing children but also for pleasure. Proverbs bears testimony to that, exhorting the husband to, ‘Rejoice with the wife of thy youth . . . be thou ravished at all times with her love’, 5. 15-19. In 1 Corinthians husband and wife are instructed to render to each other their conjugal rights as they no longer have exclusive right to their own bodies, 7. 2-5. They are not to refuse each other their marital rights, and sexual activity must only cease by mutual consent, for the purpose of a season of unhindered prayer, and then be resumed lest Satan bring temptation.
Principles of Headship
The principles of marriage were laid down in Eden and have never changed.
God brought together one man and one woman, Adam and Eve. Adam, created in the image of God, was given dominion over all of creation. God ‘crowned him with glory and honour’, Ps. 8. 5. But he was alone! It was not good that the man should be alone, and so God provided Eve, a help, suitable for Adam. Made of the man and for the man, Eve was Adam’s perfect complement, 1 Cor. 11. 9. In their different roles the man is seen as the leader and the woman as the responder. They are different physically, emotionally and psychologically.
The tragedy in Eden was that God’s order was reversed as Satan approached the woman and she, assuming a position that was not hers, caused the fall of the human race. Notwithstanding this, God held Adam responsible as head, and so we read, ‘as by one man sin entered into the world’, Rom. 5. 12, and again, ‘in Adam all die’, 1 Cor. 15. 22.
These principles are taught in the New Testament – the different roles of men and women in relation to assembly fellowship, 1 Cor. 11. 3-16, and the principles of headship relating to husband and wife, Eph. 5. 22-32.
The Example of Christ
We are introduced in Ephesians chapter 5 to Christ and the church. We see who Christ is. Then, we are shown what He does. He is the ‘Saviour’ or ‘Preserver’ of the body, the church. He demonstrates His love for the church. He ‘loved the church, and gave himself for it’. As ‘Head of the church’ He develops the church by sanctification and cleansing with that day in mind when He will ‘present it to himself . . . holy and without blemish’. The church responds by being ‘subject to Christ’.
The Role of the Husband
If Christ is ‘Head of the church’, the husband is ‘the head of the wife’. As Christ is the ‘Preserver’ of the church, so the husband is to be the preserver of the wife. He is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. He will encourage the spiritual development of his wife, as Christ the church. Notice the gentleness involved in the ‘washing of water by the word’. This is a gradual development of Christlikeness in the object of the husband’s love. He will ‘nourish’ her, to provide for her, by the labour of his hands. He will ‘cherish’ her, to prize her, with all the love of his heart. Whilst it is important for a husband to tell his wife that he loves her, it is far more important that he shows his love by giving himself for her. What an awesome responsibility the husband has in light of God’s word!
The Role of the Wife
As the church is ‘subject unto Christ’, so must ‘the wives be to their own husbands in everything’. We note that this does not give the husband the right to abuse his God-given role and treat his wife as if she were in any way inferior to him. Remember, Eve was taken from Adam’s side; not his foot, to be trampled on. Not his head, to rule over him, but from his side, to be his equal, his partner. Submission is a sign of being ‘filled with the Spirit’, v. 18. Submission should characterize all believers, v. 21, and specifically, wives, children and servants in the following verses.
It would be a hard thing for a wife to submit to a husband who is a tyrant. But it will be a happy experience to submit to a husband who loves her as Christ the church. Ultimately, her submission is ‘as unto the Lord’. So the wife’s attitude to her own husband is her attitude to the Lord. In many cases the wife may be more spiritual than the husband, and she will appreciate that he is going to need her assistance if ever he is to fulfil his God-given role. We see then that there is a dual responsibility in the marriage to achieve the heights of God’s expectations.
How wonderful when a Spirit-filled couple are seen exemplifying Christ’s love for the church as they both encourage each other in their role.
Daily ‘quiet times’ are of paramount importance in the lives of God’s people. Many young couples have been used to spending time reading God’s word and communing with Him in prayer on a daily basis. They will, during courtship, have taken every opportunity to read and pray together, thus forming the habit of a lifetime to be continued as a married couple. But it may be that neither husband nor wife has this background, in which case now is the time to start!
Like all spiritual exercise, this will require discipline. Both husband and wife must decide the best time of day for both of them to engage in these devotions, and they must encourage each other to stand by it. The demands of everyday life and our own temperaments militate against this discipline, but after a while it should become a normal part of daily life. They should decide to read the scriptures systematically.
In 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 7 we have valuable instruction regarding this aspect of married life. Previous verses have described the subjection of the wives, and their godly demeanour, as being ‘in the sight of God of great price’. Now the husbands are instructed, ‘dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel’. Thus, the husband takes intelligent care of his wife, understanding her personality and seeking her spiritual development. He does not patronize her; he honours her. God encourages us in this exercise by promising a successful, unhindered prayer life, ‘that your prayers be not hindered’. What a privilege to enjoy joint daily devotions.
God wants His people to use their homes for his glory. All believers are exhorted to be ‘given to hospitality’, Rom. 12. 13. Home life should be a picture of Christ and the church, a witness to unbelievers, and a help to fellow saints.
Service for God
The acid test as to whether a marriage is ‘in the Lord’ or not, is the effect that it has on the husband and wife in stewardship of the gift with which the Holy Spirit has endowed them. The married couple can serve the Lord in ways that they could not as single people. Both husband and wife must recognize their respective gifts, and seek to encourage each other in their use. The role of the wife will be as home-maker, in hospitality, in supporting her husband in his ministry, and, as she matures, in teaching younger sisters, Titus 2. The husband must seek to develop his gift, which may take much time alone with God, and only if the wife allows this will it happen.
In the early days of marriage, the young couple may not be sure what their gifts are, so they will need to be involved in all the activities of the local assembly. Involvement in the activities of the local assembly will help in the development of gifts. As time goes by the husband and wife, and the saints in fellowship, will see what those gifts are, and all will benefit from their exercise. If the husband is called to exercise a prominent public role in the service of God, he must always remember that this will never be more important in the eyes of God than his loving and caring for his wife.
In a world where Christian values are being attacked, the Christian home is a very precious thing. May we seek God’s guidance and help in maintaining what He has revealed in His word and enjoy the blessings of marriage in the Lord.